Thursday, December 03, 2015

Gujarat local body elections: Congress "bounces back" in rural areas, urban areas remain BJP bastion

By Darshan Desai
In a major setback, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lost face in his home state, Gujarat, where the ruling BJP has heavily lost in local body elections to the opposition Congress, written off in the state after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when it failed to win even one seat, conceding all 26 to the BJP.
Coming close on the heals of the shock Modi’s party suffered in Bihar, the BJP could win just six district panchayats as against the Congress’ victory in 24. Simultaneously, the BJP could win just about 67 taluka panchayats as against the Congress’ scorecard of 134.
The BJP ruled 30 out of 31 district panchayats and 150 out 231 taluka panchayats after the last elections to the local bodies, held in 2010. Yet, the fact is, while district and taluka panchayats may be cause for rejoice to the Congress, the party has not been able to make a major headway beyond the rural areas.
Thus, the BJP not only retained all six municipal corporations – Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar – for which the polls were held, it won 34 municipalities as against Congress’ scorecard of just 11.
No doubt, the BJP’s victory in six city municipal corporations and municipalities has been diluted, as its victory margins have gone down, but the Congress’ failure suggests that it has a long way to go to gain urban support.
The elections – held on November 22 and November 29 – are however being interpreted as suggesting that is BJP is not invincible. Gujarat has, for the last over a decade, been a state, which has won the reputation where anyone could win in the name of the BJP and Narendra Modi.
Despite urban defeat, results show that the Congress defeated the BJP in some of those city areas where it was considered strong, especially in the Patel-dominated areas. This was especially visible in Rajkot, where Patel vote matters the most – it bagged 34 seats against the BJP’s 38.
In the outgoing Rajkot Municipal Corporation, the BJP had 49 members, as against Congress’ just 10. But as for Ahmedabad, things remain look pretty well-entrenched for the BJP. This time, the BJP won the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation won 142 seats out of 192, as against just 154 in 2010.
The polls are considered as the first popularity test since Modi left Gujarat, leaving the chief ministership to his closest ideological protégé, Anandiben Patel, nearly two years ago. It was also the first poll in the state in the wake of Patel community protests demanding reservation in jobs and educational institutes.
Also this is the first election which the BJP wanted to be postponed in Gujarat, claiming that the law and order situation was “not conducive” to hold a free and free election.
Such view was not taken even in the aftermath of the 2002 communal riots, when the BJP, riding on the Hindutva wave, sought early elections. In fact, following petitions by individuals, the Gujarat High Court had to force the elections on Gujarat.

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